(Mercy Thompson Series)
A/N - In this chapter, we get an explanation of the events surrounding both Hector's Change and Michelle's flight from the pack. We also find the two main characters starting to accept their desire for one another. I hope this was worth the long wait. I realize I publish very slowly, but my mind is a hard thing to focus, and I have a lot of other stuff going on. I have a birthday in a few days, and I figured I would give you guys a present in the form of an update. I hope you will review and let me know what you think. It really is encouraging. Enjoy!
NOTE: Some of you will notice that I have changed some things from the book in this chapter. In the books, the safe room cage has silver-coated bars. I chose to leave that out for the sake of my story. Please bear with it. Thanks!
DISCLAIMER: I do not own the Mercy Thompson series or characters. That honor belongs to Patricia Briggs, and I receive no compensation for this work.
Chapter 8 – Máma
Everyone was quiet a moment, digesting this new, shocking information. Adam was notably surprised, though he kept his face as bland as possible.
He had never known a werewolf to have the courage to Change their own human children. It was so risky a process, in all honesty usually fatal. Most chose to have a close friend or their Alpha do the task, if they allowed it at all.
It was a hard decision, to either watch one's child die of the ravages of time, or to lose them violently in a slim chance to gain immortality.
Not even the Marrok had done such a thing.
Adam's mind went to Jesse, and he inwardly cringed. To lose her, that way… His face hardened at the thought.
Michelle looked at the floor, tears streaming down her face. Everyone was so quiet. She hadn't told anyone else of this since it happened, too wracked with guilt, fearing that her son had died by her own fangs. What must they think of her now?
"I-It was an accident," she whispered, stuttering.
"Tell me," said Adam calmly. Warren brought her some tissues, and Darryl presented her with a glass of water, which she gratefully accepted.
"I was Changed two years ago in Sacramento. Hector and I had been living in a house not far from my mother. The local Alpha, David, learned of how quickly I had healed from the pack members employed by the hospital. He took me in to teach me the ropes. During that time, my son stayed with my mother." She paused to take another sip of water.
"A couple months later it seemed that things were going well, that I was in control of my wolf and could return home." She glanced briefly at Adam. "During the time I spent with the pack, one of the pack members, third in rank, had taken an interest in me. His name was Clint."
"And I take it you didn't return this interest?" Adam asked when he noted the sneer in her voice.
Michelle shook her head. "Not at all. Honestly, he creeped me out. He was always staring at me with this crazy-ass expression, and my rejection only seemed to make him more interested. I was happy to leave that pack, if only to get away from that weirdo.
"Anyway, as time went on, Clint became more aggressive with his advances toward me. I refused him of course, but he didn't like hearing 'no' for an answer. I tried to only be near the pack when I needed to, in an attempt to avoid him, but I still had to attend pack meetings, as was normal.
"When things became too much, I tried to inform David. I thought he would do something about it, but he told me that there were more important issues he had to attend to. I was on my own."
Adam made a disapproving sound. How could her Alpha ignore his duty to protect his wolves, especially a lower-ranking, female member of his pack? What kind of pack had Michelle come from? He kept his anger quiet as she continued.
"Females in that pack…they weren't treated very well, like their rights didn't matter. It took me a long time to notice, seeing how I was hardly around once I learned control. If you weren't mated, you were next to nothing." She shook her head at the memory.
"The last meeting I went to was a couple nights before the full moon. I was already restless. When everything adjourned, David told me he needed to speak with me, privately. I remember thinking it was weird, because I was so low that I hardly ever had contact with the Alpha, not after he had finished inducting and training me.
"So I went with him to his office only to find Clint waiting for me. When I asked David what was going on, he told me that he needed his third to be clear-headed, that I was a distraction, and if I would just remove the element of mystery, maybe Clint could be of better use to him."
She looked up at Adam. "He wanted me to have sex with Clint, right there, in his office! I told him no, naturally, and he replied that it was an order. I didn't even know an Alpha could give out such crazy orders."
Adam shook his head. What kind of shitbag was this Alpha? He had not only known what was going on, he had tried to assist with it?!
"Technically, an order from an Alpha is an order," he said. "But in this…you were right to disobey." He remembered that even in the Army, you could refuse to follow an order that was unlawful. He quickly added, "Just know that you would never receive such a one from me."
Michelle nodded, sipped her water, and continued. "Anyway, I fought. David tried to corner me, to hold me down so I wouldn't hurt Clint. But I managed to break his hold and jump through the one window in the room. I was running almost as soon as I hit the ground."
Her mind called up images she had hoped to forget, David's rough hands, harsh voice, and yellow eyes…looking up to see Clint smiling, his hand going to the button of his pants. Her screaming…
"Then all I remember was running," she said, shrugging off the shudder that ran through her. "I don't know if it was the closeness of the full moon, my still being relatively new, or the trauma of what had happened, but I had to eventually stop as my change came on involuntarily." She started to cry again as she was about to reveal the most painful part.
"My wolf took over afterward, and somehow I ended up at my doorstep. Hector must have heard me, because he came to the door. I felt like I was just a spectator, watching everything happen without any way to stop it. When my baby opened the door…" She wiped her eyes again, weeping quietly to herself.
Adam walked around his desk and stopped in front of her, squatting down to her height. He placed a hand on her knee. "You don't have to finish. I can pretty much understand what happened. Michelle, look at me."
She lifted her head until she could see his face. "It wasn't your fault. Your wolf came forward, because you were in a danger you couldn't handle on your own. Unfortunately there was not enough control to keep her from protecting you from everyone, even your child. But you are not to blame for it."
She felt a bit of wolf magic flow over her like a balm to her woes, calming her restless emotions. Within moments, she felt better, though the memory was there still. She nodded at him, wiping the last of her tears away.
"Thank you," she said. When she looked around, she saw that Ben was no longer in the room. Warren was smiling a little at her, still in place against the wall. Darryl looked, well, like Darryl, but the skin around his deep, brown eyes was a little softer.
There was no judgment. No censure; only understanding and empathy.
Perhaps this pack was different after all.
But where was Ben? Had he heard her story? Did he feel differently about her? She just wanted to go and see Hector. When she said so to Adam, he rose to his feet.
"You may see him," he said. "But he will stay in the cage for now, until he changes back and we're sure that whatever story he tells us checks out. I'll get in contact with Bran and touch base with him. I'm sure he'll want to be made aware of the situation."
When Michelle's face showed worry, he was quick to reassure her. "Bran is not a hot head, Michelle. He's been around a very, very long time. He'll want to know all the information and consider everything before making any decisions." He nodded at Warren, who stepped forward.
"Come on, darlin'," he said. "Let's go see your boy." She thanked Adam again, and followed Warren back down to the basement.
Hector was still sleeping, lying on his side. Michelle took a moment to take in his appearance. He was a good, large size, but his fur was oddly colored. It was a color similar to that of a Doberman or Rottweiler, being mostly black with brown accents on his legs, underbelly, muzzle, face, and ears.
Werewolves obviously had more options for coat color and pattern than normal wolves did.
"Why isn't he waking up?" Michelle asked. She urgently wanted him to change back, to see the face of her son, to talk with him. She said so.
Warren looked at him closely. "We had a bit of a struggle when we found him, but no one hurt him, not really. I had to wrestle him to the ground, and when he still fought, Adam subdued him with his power."
His brow furrowed a little. "It was difficult though, because he resisted, actually resisted an Alpha. I've never known Adam to have to try so hard. Usually, it's pretty effective, especially with newer wolves. But eventually it worked, maybe too well. He's been out ever since. Here, let me try something."
He closed his eyes, concentrating. Michelle watched him, saw the sweat that beaded a bit on his forehead, felt the whoosh of power come off him. She hadn't even known he could do it.
Hector began to stir as Warren's magic waned. She saw his body twitch for a moment before his eyelids lifted over pale golden eyes. The wolf blinked a couple times, his movements sluggish as he raised his head before slowly coming to his feet.
He seemed disoriented, looking around, his nose working furiously. For wolves, not only was it frightening to wake up in an unfamiliar setting, it could also provoke aggression. Both Michelle and Warren were still, watching Hector, waiting for him to take notice of them.
When he finally did, Hector froze, the fur along his spine rising. He seemed scared and defensive…until his eyes and nose told him who Michelle was. After that, his attention was solely on her.
He whined softly, stepping toward her as she knelt in front of the cage. Michelle smiled at him, wiping at her eyes. "Hector…" she began. "Hello, baby." She put her hand between the bars as Hector finally made contact, his long tongue lapping at her hand.
His whines were growing louder, his excitement at seeing his mother taking over. She ran her hands over his ears and the soft fur of his head lovingly before Warren got their attention.
The wolf stopped a moment, finally noticing his current position inside a cage.
He growled slightly, gripping a bar between his jaws and making as though to pull at them. It was obvious he wanted out. Michelle was unsure what to say. She started to explain, but Warren interrupted.
"Just a moment, boy," Warren said. "Change first. We will explain everything when you can talk to us about why you are here, and what you've been up to since you came."
The young wolf looked at Warren for a heartbeat then glanced at his mother. At her nod, he closed his eyes for a moment, as if making some kind of effort, only to open them again, his face taking on an awkward expression.
Sometimes wolves had problems initiating voluntary changes in the beginning. When they did, it often took them longer to finish than others. Perhaps Hector was having a problem and was a little embarrassed about it.
"Do you want me to leave the room for a minute?" Michelle asked him. When he gave her a nod, she went up the stairs and shut the door behind her. Warren decided to stay with him just in case he needed assistance.
She waited about five minutes before Ben, in his human shape, joined her. He had made his exit as soon as she'd made her confession, wanting to be able to speak to her.
She glanced at him before averting her eyes, still unsure what his reaction to her story had been. "Hi," she said softly.
She started a little when she felt his fingers on her chin, lifting her eyes to his. He smiled a little. "Hi." Her face must have shown her consternation.
"You have no reason to feel ashamed," he said. "Believe me we all have our own problems here. That's what makes a pack such a good thing. We have burdens, baggage, and the pack helps us to bear them."
Michelle nodded. "Thanks." She was so tempted to stay. This pack was far better than the Sacramento pack ever was. Maybe she would…maybe.
Ben was looking at her face, watching her thoughts play across her features. His heart went out to her for what she'd had to tell them. He knew it had been hard to reveal something so personal.
She wouldn't admit it of course, but she cared what the pack thought of her. It was written on her face, in her reluctance to tell them about it. Hopefully, she cared what he thought of her as well.
Nothing she revealed had changed his growing feelings for her. She was still just as beautiful, just as painfully fascinating as she had been since he'd met her. He was so surprised, as he usually didn't like anyone who was outside of his personal circle enough to take any interest in them.
But she had affected him in ways he hadn't expected. She had gotten inside of his cold exterior and made him feel, made him want.
Michelle eased back a little when Ben's eyes centered on her lips. She didn't want to encourage him. Now was definitely not the time for a kiss between them, not when someone could catch them.
Thankfully, Warren chose that moment to open the door. "He's ready, Mom," he said with a smile. She eagerly went back to Hector, Ben and Warren accompanying her.
Hector was standing, braced against the side of the cage, his head leaning against it and his hand hanging against a crossbar. He was wearing obviously borrowed clothes that hung a little too loosely for her taste. She automatically had the maternal urge to get some food into him.
He perked up as the three wolves approached.
"Hi Máma," he said, reaching through the bars to her. She went to him, grabbing his hands and bringing them to her lips.
"My son," she started, before her emotions took her, and tears started to fall. "I'm so sorry, Hector," she cried, unable to meet his eyes, her grip tightening on his hand.
In her emotional state, she began to lapse into Spanish, before remembering to be courteous of those around her. "I never meant to hurt you, baby."
Hector was silent as he let his mother shed the burden, the pain his supposed death had brought, the despair.
When she seemed calmed, he caressed her head with his free hand. "It's okay, Mom. I'm okay. I didn't understand at the time, but I do now. This—" He gestured to himself. "— definitely isn't easy, especially when you're new to it. I nearly lost control myself, many times."
Something about Hector's voice, his touch, was calming to Michelle. She looked in her son's face, marveling at his maturity given the circumstances.
"I'm just so happy to see you again," he said. "David said you had left, but that he didn't know if you were alive or not."
Michelle went still. "You spoke to David?" She hadn't known if he had fallen in with a pack or had been a lone wolf the whole time.
Hector nodded. "I met him a couple days after I was discharged from the hospital. He came to our house pretty soon after that, said that he was Alpha of the pack you belonged to, that he'd help me." Michelle's face took on a cynical expression, but she let Hector continue.
"He took me in, taught me about my wolf. But when that Phillip guy talked to me and said you were alive, that you had headed north, I took your car from Grandma's house, and headed this way." He sipped some water from a water bottle someone had placed with him.
Michelle pondered over what Hector had said. Phillip was David's second and the only one of the three that had seemed sensible. He knew she'd come north? But how? Was he watching her, or was he having someone else watch her?
More importantly, if Phillip had known she'd come this way, did that mean Clint did as well? She tried to swallow down the shot of fear when she thought of Clint trying to find her.
Beside her, Ben shifted a little closer. Something was troubling Michelle, even in the wake of her reunion with her son. He wanted her to know that he was there, if she needed him. "You didn't speak with anyone else about this did you, anyone named Clint? Did he know where I went?" she finally asked.
Ben's brows drew down a little. Who was Clint?
Was he an estranged husband? Michelle had never mentioned anyone… No, she would have told Adam about a husband. Maybe he wasn't a husband…perhaps a lover?
The sudden shot of jealousy that surged through him at the thought wrung a muffled rumble from his lips that he tried to disguise as straightening his voice when she turned to frown at him. Oops.
Hector looked confused. "I'm not sure who Clint is. I only ran with David and Phillip," Hector said, running a hand through his hair. "Phillip somehow knew you'd gone north. So that's where I went."
"Did he tell you why he thought I went this way?" Michelle asked. She still couldn't understand how they knew where she was. Perhaps someone tracked her. But she had been so careful…
"No," her son explained. "All he told me was which direction you had gone, that there were other packs north of us and that I should ask if they'd seen you. So I began searching."
He looked guilty. "I left without telling anyone, just packed some stuff and drove. I would stop for a couple days here and there, sometimes longer to see if I could find your scent. Your car should still be parked near the last hotel I was staying at in Yakima.
"When I finally made it up this way a few weeks ago, I tried to lay low to avoid the pack. But they caught me last night as I was searching. I hadn't wanted to go with them, but it doesn't matter now. Phillip was right. I'm glad he knew where you were. I missed you, Mom."
Ben remained still at Michelle's side. He was still pondering who this Clint character was, but he would ask her in a roundabout way later. He took notice of Hector's appearance, of how similar mother and son looked.
His skin tone was the same, like whipped coffee with cream, his hair a darker, more reddish shade of brown than his mother's. It was also straighter than Michelle's curls. Dark brown eyes complemented an oval face with a nice chin and strong but lean jaw. He was a handsome young man, but with his mother's looks, it was hardly a surprise.
Michelle felt herself getting choked with emotions again. He shouldn't have had to go through this alone. She should have been there to help him, not being left in the care of two men she didn't trust. She tried to speak past the lump in her throat.
"David is not to be trusted, Hector. He…" She stopped herself from telling her son about that, not wanting to add to his stress. "I am just happy you got away from there. If I had known, I would have been there for you. I promise I didn't abandon you. I'm so sorry."
Hector smiled a little. "Stop apologizing. I'm just so glad I found you. I looked in so many places." He suddenly looked very tired and very young. Michelle just wanted to hold him, to protect him now when she hadn't then. She wasn't even upset that he had driven all this way without having earned his driver's license yet. He would have gotten it the following year.
She prepared herself to appeal to her Alpha to let him stay with her.
As if her thoughts had called him, Adam descended the stairs. He strode over to Hector as the others moved aside, and the boy eased back from the door of the cage, nervously looking at the Alpha's feet.
Adam regarded him in silence for a moment. "The place where we found you," he began neutrally. "I scented another strange wolf near there as well. Are you familiar with him?"
The boy shook his head. "I came up here alone. The wolves I detected I just assumed were all part of your pack."
"They weren't," Adam commented. "The Marrok is waiting for this intel, and whatever information you have will be given to him as well. However long it takes you to remember, you need to tell me anything you know."
Hector's face lifted slightly. "Will I be able to go with my mother?" Everyone was quiet in anticipation of Adam's answer.
"No," Adam said firmly, holding up a hand when Hector made a sound of disapproval. "You may leave the cage, but you will stay here until we determine you are no threat. There have been too many bodies to take this lightly."
"But I didn't kill anyone!" Hector cried indignantly. He wanted to go with his mother, who he hadn't seen in such a long time.
Adam's eye flashed angrily at the boy's tone, worrying Michelle. "Can I not just keep him with me at all times?" she asked lowly, her eyes lowered.
"No," said Adam, facing her. "He will remain here. But you may see him anytime and for as long as you want." He gave her shoulder a small squeeze. "I know you are eager to be with him."
He looked back at Hector's resentful face. "Until we figure out for sure what is happening, you will remain in this house. You can leave the cage, but you will stay here. Is that understood?"
"No, it's not!" Hector yelled. "You're being unfair, and I haven't seen my mother in weeks! I haven't done anything. Is this some kind of jail?! Let me out!"
Michelle addressed Hector before Adam could let loose the anger she could feel coming off him. She knew he was giving her son a mercy, something her old Alpha most certainly would not do were he in Adam's shoes.
"Hector, baby, stop," she said. "It's ok. This is big house, so you shouldn't be in anyone's way. I'll be here, so it's fine."
The boy's lips clenched. "No, it's not fine," he grumbled. "I want to go with you!"
Hector practically radiated rebelliousness. "I don't understand why I have to stay here. Why can't I just go with my mom?" he muttered. They could feel Adam's power begin to swell in response to the boy's resistance.
Michelle started to get nervous. "Hector-"
"It's simple," the Alpha said, stopping her cold with his near-growling tone. "It's either free in this house, or confined to this cage." He crossed his arms. "What will it be, boy?"
When the boy drew a breath, as if to say something else, Michelle interrupted him firmly. "Mijo, stop arguing," she said, giving him her best mom stare.
Hector, for all his stubborn, headstrong moments, had always been an obedient boy. He met his mother's eyes for a second before nodding. "Okay."
"Good," Adam said. "Michelle, I need to speak with him for a little while, alone." He saw her hesitance, her protectiveness even in the face of her Alpha. "You have my word that I won't hurt him," he reassured her, then focused his gaze on her. "Wait for him upstairs."
She heard the order in his tone and turned to head back upstairs without further argument. Warren and Darryl stayed while Ben followed Michelle.
When they were in the hall outside the basement, Ben shut the door. "What do you think he's talking to him about?" Michelle asked, hoping that Adam wasn't frightening her son. "He's not in trouble, is he?"
Ben shook his head. "I can't say exactly what it is, but I'm sure he's just making sure the boy understands his place. As long as he isn't too smart-mouthed, I'm sure he'll be alright."
The two waited for 5, then 10 minutes, both leaning against the wall, then walking to the living room to sit on the couch. The silence was getting just this side of awkward when Ben finally spoke. "Would you like to grab something to eat while we wait, perhaps get some takeaway for Hector?"
Michelle gave him a small smile, grateful for his support through all this. "I think it would be best if I wait here for him. I want him to see a familiar face when he comes up. He has to be scared."
Ben was disappointed, but he understood. Nonetheless... "Well, um, I could go get something. What would you like?"
She considered the question for a moment. "I could go for a good burger right about now. Know a good place?"
Ben nodded. "Of course. There's a place right in downtown Kennewick." He walked to the door, collecting his jacket. "I won't be long," he said.
The door closed just in time for Mercy to come from upstairs. She yawned as she noticed Michelle sitting in the living room. "Hey there," she said with a sleepy smile. "What's up?"
The wolf smiled in spite of her worry. "Nothing much, other than your mate is probably giving my son a stern talking to before he lets him have free reign of the house. How are you doing?"
Mercy yawned again. "Son? I didn't know you had a son! Oh, and I feel great. But I guess midday naps will do that for you. I get so sleepy sometimes, it's bizarre. But I feel really good when I wake up." She walked over and sat down next to the other woman.
Michelle nodded, remembering all those years ago. "Yes, it was very difficult for me, still being in school and all. Sometimes, I couldn't stay awake long enough to get through my classes." She told Mercy a condensed version of what she had told the others.
The walker was shocked, but understood. "I grew up among werewolves, Michelle. Believe me when I say that even as bad as your situation is, it isn't the worst I've heard. There are others who have done terrible things, and intentionally. So don't guilt yourself too much. The wolf is hard to control sometimes."
Michelle was grateful to the woman who was quickly becoming her best friend. It was nice to be supported for a change.
Mercy smiled. "I saw Ben leaving. Is he coming back? She sat back against the cushions, perfectly relaxed.
"Yes," said Michelle. "He went to get some burgers for us." She smiled to herself, reflecting on how things had changed between her and the red wolf.
Mercy noted her expression. "You know, Ben doesn't like many people," she began in a sober tone. "He's had a rough life, and not many take to him, wolf or otherwise." She tapped Michelle's knee, drawing the werewolf's gaze.
"He likes you," she said, her tone conveying her belief in that fact. "You do know that, right? I have never seen him be so agreeable with anyone he's not familiar with, especially a female. But I see how he looks at you, how he watches you." She seemed to try to pick her words carefully. "How do you feel about him?"
Michelle's eyes widened a little at the unexpected question. "Honestly, I don't really know. I didn't intend for any of this to happen, not this place, not this pack, and certainly not this thing between me and Red." She put a hand to her forehead with a sigh.
"Some of the best events in our lives happen when we don't intend them to," Mercy said, patting Michelle on the back. "Look at me? You think I, a mechanic, ever thought of myself becoming a mother?"
Michelle lifted her head and grinned at the walker. When she felt something warm and furry brush her legs, she started slightly, looking down to see a nubby-tailed cat with blotches of gray and brown fur against the white background of her coat. The purring was loud in the brief quiet.
"What an odd animal," Michelle remarked as she reached to pick up the cat. She was pleased when the creature made no complaint as she placed it on her lap. "Cat's never let me touch them anymore."
"That's Medea," Mercy laughed, running a hand along the writhing cats back. "She loves on anyone and anything that will pet her." Michelle caressed and scratched the cat under her chin, much to Medea's delight. "Now she'll love you forever," Mercy said.
When the cat lay down, making herself comfortable, Michelle continued to pet her while thinking over what Mercy had said. "When I first met Ben, I hated him. He changed all my plans, and I ended up here, among strange wolves in a strange place. I had no idea where I was going, but I really wasn't trying to stop."
She sighed. "Now, against any good sense I have, I am forming bonds here that I'm starting to value, and Ben is at the center of that. It's funny, how things change."
Mercy understood the werewolf's anguish. "All I know is that I've never seen Ben behave like this," she said. "Sure, there have been other women, females he only slept with. But those hookups never lasted long. He never let them see any side of him but what was necessary to get what he wanted. Hell, he never even brought them around the pack."
Mercy remembered her talks with Ben, his cold indifference towards the women he would callously throw away once they'd served his needs. His social skills had been lacking, and he still had a ways to go. But ever since Michelle had come, he'd actually been trying lately.
He seemed to be shedding some of that sadness, that darkness he used to carry around with him like a cloak, trying to hide it behind cynicism, bad language, and at times, even cruelty.
But Mercy knew who he really was, and why he was.
She watched Medea a moment then looked up at Michelle's face. "He's always been a hard guy to like. But since you've come here, he's been…different."
Michelle didn't know how to respond to that, so she stayed quiet.
"Just understand this," Mercy said softly. "He's rough, and I'm not going to say he's 100% good. But he is my friend."
Michelle understood completely. "I don't know how I feel about this whole situation," she began. "But I promise you Mercy, I'm not going to lead him into thinking I feel one way or the other if it isn't the truth. I don't play games."
She liked him too. Michelle realized that. And honestly, she had come to the conclusion, especially with the doting he had done over her, that maybe letting him in wasn't such a bad thing.
The walker smiled. "Good." They both turned their heads when they heard the door leading downstairs open. Both women stood, much to Medea's chagrin. The cat ran off with a resentful meow.
Hector came into view first, with Adam, Darryl, and Warren behind. Hector immediately went to his mother. Michelle wrapped him tightly in her arms, noting that he'd gotten a little taller in the short time she'd been away from him.
"I missed you so much!" he said against her shoulder. He pulled back to look into his mother's face worriedly, asking her something in Spanish.
"Yes, mijo," his mother answered. "Just like I promised, I will stay here, as long as it's alright with Adam and Mercy."
Adam had walked up next to Mercy, wrapping an arm about her shoulders. "Of course," he said. "We have plenty of room."
Hector turned his head toward Mercy, sniffing the air a few times. "Your scent…it's different. You're not human, but you're not one of us, are you?"
Michelle was about to admonish him for his rudeness, but Mercy only smiled. "No, I'm just your friendly neighborhood coyote," she said jokingly.
"And my mate," Adam said lowly, pulling her closer. "Is that going to be a problem?"
Hector considered the walker for a moment, his expression light. "Nope. Why would it be a problem?" Michelle shook her head. This was going to be an interesting arrangement.
The front door opened, and Ben came in with food in hand. He had two bags, one consisting of burgers and the other with sides.
Michelle and Hector eyed the bags hungrily as Adam smiled. "I hope you have enough for all of us." He laughed when Ben's face betrayed that he did not. "Just kidding; I promised Trouble here that we'd go out for dinner tonight. She's craving seafood."
He looked down at his wife. "Let's get ready." Mercy smiled, soaking in the warm and fuzzy feelings that always came with Adam. She tilted her head up, inviting his kiss. After a few seconds, Ben's long-suffering voice chimed in.
"Good God, you two. Get a room!" he said with a roll of his eyes. Adam kissed Mercy one last time. "Shaddup, you."
The Alpha took his wife by the hand, leading her to the stairs. Just before they reached them, he turned to look at Hector, his face a little less joking. "Remember what I said," he told the boy.
Hector nodded. "I will." He laughed a little as Mercy stuck her tongue out at Ben just before her face went out of sight. Ben just shook his head.
The trio headed into the kitchen to start eating. Michelle hadn't realized how hungry she was until the scent of the food wafted her nose. Now she was ravenous.
Hector had been given some food when he had been brought in, but he was equally enthusiastic. She was secretly happy to have him eat more. He was too thin in her opinion.
There were a few moments of companionable silence as the wolves ate. Then the awkwardness ensued. Ben felt like the third wheel.
"Hector, this is Ben," Michelle said, trying to break the proverbial ice. "He helped me look for you when I first thought you were in the area."
"Yes, I remember him," Hector said, regarding Ben coolly. "He was the first wolf I saw just before they got me."
It would appear mother and son had something in common. Ben knew it, and he chose that moment to finish his meal and excuse himself. "I'll just…let you two get reacquainted," he said awkwardly. "I know you have a lot to catch up on."
Michelle smiled. Now that some time had passed, it was easy to laugh at the similar situations. A few months ago however, and she probably would have been a lot less likely to look on all this with any sort of humor.
She watched the red wolf as he rose to leave. He really had been there for her, supporting and comforting her when she was forced to stay out of the search for her son. And now he had brought them food.
Maybe he wasn't so bad after all. Michelle found that he moved just a few more notches upward in her mind, probably more than a few. Her attraction to Ben wasn't something that troubled her anymore. Why should it? Frankly, she was tired of this dance between them.
They were both adults. Why not?
She rose from her chair, following Ben outside the kitchen, where he stopped. When she saw his face, she smiled again, a genuine smile. Ben's innards turned a flip in his belly.
"I just want to thank you," Michelle said. When she grabbed one of his hands in hers, he felt the familiar zings and tingles, but he was proud that he kept his expression pleased rather than insanely euphoric as his inner self was.
"You didn't have to comfort me or help me and Hector as you have, especially given how I've acted with you." She gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
Ben, still in control of his face, gave a small smile. "I told you," he said. "I will help you, if you need me." His eyes bore into hers.
Pink rose to her cheeks, but she smiled again. "I really appreciate it," she said. She dropped his hand as she turned to go back to the kitchen. "Thanks, Red," she said with a wink.
Ben was still for a moment before raising the hand she'd touched and rubbing the still tingling spot with his other. His desire for her was at an all-time high. But with her son here, she'd definitely have other things on her mind.
He went to look for any of the other wolves, not wanting to go home and be away from her, not yet. He found Warren back in Adam's office, on the phone, with Kyle from what Ben could hear. He was telling his partner that he'd be home soon after finishing up some wolf business.
Warren hung up as Ben sat down in one of the chairs. "Hey there," the cowboy said. "Is everything going alright with our lady and the boy?"
Ben nodded. "They're having a much-needed talk." He fiddled around with some of the objects on the desk, his mind back on Michelle. She had smiled at him, shown her gratitude, had even sought his touch by grabbing his hand.
Warren watched his pack mate, amused. "Man, you've got it bad," he chided, a knowing smirk on his face. He'd seen the two wolves dancing around each other. It was hilarious. Their little Ben actually liked someone.
Ben gave a resigned sigh, not even denying it. "It's very odd, really," he said, his brow furrowed. "I don't really care much for many other people, and certainly not a gash, if only for their usual uses. I just haven't had the best experiences with them."
He picked up the figurine of a wolf, playing his fingers across it almost absently. "But aside from the powerful sexual urges, I actually like this woman. You know, for her personality."
He kept his head lowered and looked at Warren to gauge his reaction. "Actually," he said hesitantly. "I like how she makes me feel." And so did his wolf.
Warren just shrugged. "Hey, you like what you like. Why not see where it goes? It's pretty clear she likes you too, even if she tries to hide it. So…?"
"She has her son to worry about now," Ben said, unsure. "And there's the possibility that someone from her previous pack is about, looking for her or even both of them. She won't have time to be caught up with me."
Warren considered his words. "That boy is a funny one. You saw how he was when we got to him? Even Adam had trouble wranglin' him. He thinks, well, we won't worry about that until he speaks with Bran. But we know he isn't your usual run of the mill wolf."
Ben nodded, remembering how Hector had refused to listen to Adam, even when he had known Adam was Alpha. Arguing with him downstairs…it was most likely the presence of Michelle that had stopped the boy from dealing with serious consequences, regardless of his youth.
But Adam was a patient Alpha. He had embraced and cared for Mac, a young wolf who, a few years ago, had landed on Mercy's doorstep in need of a pack, despite the unintentional faux pas' Mac had committed.
Hector was young, and Adam would protect and care for him and his mother. It's what Alphas did. And Adam was more Alpha than most, one of the best in the country.
"Adam is gonna talk with Bran and see what he advises," Warren was saying. "Bran will know what to do."
"Indeed." Ben nodded. The Marrok's knack for knowing all about a situation, and what to do about it, was more than a little creepy sometimes.
"Well," said Warren, suddenly serious. "Things will play out with the boy as they're 'sposed to. As for the lady…" He caught Ben's eyes, holding them. "You behave yourself with her, or you will answer to me."
Ben held the stare for a moment longer than was probably protocol, but eventually dropped his eyes. "I understand," he muttered, obedient but a little hurt. As if he would hurt her!
A knock on the open door to the office had both wolves turning to see who it was. Michelle stood there, a slight smile on her face. "Hey Warren," she greeted. "Um, Ben, could I speak with you a moment?"
Ben got to his feet more calmly than he felt, not seeing Warren smile as he and Michelle exited the office.
As the two walked, Ben watched Michelle out of the corner of his eye. She seemed okay, so this was hopefully nothing that amounted to him having done something wrong.
She stopped midway down the hallway, Ben following suit. "I was wondering if you would come with me. I need to pick up some things from my home, since I'll be staying here with Hector for a while."
Ben looked at her face. Was she serious? Didn't she know how much he wanted her? Both of them going back to her house, being alone again together…he didn't know if he could trust himself not to act inappropriately, especially since he knew she wasn't completely unattracted.
He realized he was staring, but Michelle held his eyes. She was confident, and didn't seem to be nervous at all.
Nonetheless, he wanted to make sure. "Are you sure that's wise?" he asked, searching her face, trying to keep his expression bland to hide his mounting excitement at being alone with her again.
Michelle nodded. "I don't know what it is, Red," she said jokingly, looking away briefly. Her smile died on her lips when she met his eyes again. "But somehow I feel comfortable around you. Plus, I need to ask you a favor."
"Then I am at your disposal," Ben murmured.
His heart was beating rapidly, but he managed to walk out to her car without incident. The two drove to her home in Richland in a silence that was oddly comfortable, the radio station playing classic rock, drowning out their busy minds.
Michelle tapped a beat on her steering wheel, and Ben marveled at enthusiasm for Led Zeppelin. She kept surprising him, this woman, with her perfect Spanish despite having no discernible accent. He had the afterthought that Auriele would be happy to have more Spanish-speaking wolves in the pack.
When they pulled to a stop in front of her apartment, he offered to wait in the car for her, but she got out without a word, giving him an impatient look when he tarried.
Taking the hint, Ben followed.
Michelle let them into her apartment, taking deep, even breaths. She knew that bringing him here had been a totally unnecessary risk. Part of it had been true; she did have a favor to ask him, and she hadn't wanted anyone else to hear. There was enough gossip about them in the pack as it was.
But she had also wanted to be alone with him. She liked him, and after the kindness and consideration he had shown her, she liked him even more.
"Just make yourself at home," she said, laying her keys on the table next to the door. "Grab a beer or something. I'll just be a moment." She headed up the stairs, grabbing a bag and stuffing some items in.
She glanced at her bedside clock. It was nearly 9pm, so it wasn't early, but it wasn't that late either. She should have some time to speak with Ben.
Hopefully he would agree to help her. It wasn't anything major, but it could bring on the awkwardness she had started associating with their interactions. He seemed to be more comfortable with her now, so maybe not. But who knew? He was such a mystery to her.
Still, she couldn't stop the stirrings low in her belly when she thought of him. Why was she even attracted to him?
He definitely wasn't her usual type. His build was too lanky, his hair too blonde. She usually went for the tall, dark, handsome, football-player built men. Then again, she thought with a grimace, the last one like that left me alone with a baby.
She chalked it up to the fact that things didn't always go as planned. Her life had been filled with unexpected events, and this was just one more. She decided to go with the flow. Her wolf was drawn to Ben, felt comfortable with him.
And thus far, her wilder half had never been wrong.
She took a moment to check herself in the mirror. She wasn't exactly glamorous, but maybe he liked her features too..? She wondered what women Ben typically went for, and felt a little self-conscious.
Why not take a chance? She'd never know unless she took the risk. Resolved, Michelle packed the last of her toiletries and clothes and headed back downstairs.
Ben was tipping his head back as he took a few gulps from his beer bottle. She watched the movements of his throat as though mesmerized, her feet moving her closer to the couch where he was seated.
His eyes met hers a moment before he stood and set the bottle on the coffee table. "All finished?" he asked.
"Yeah," Michelle said. "I don't need much."
Ben gave her a slow, assessing look, from her feet and jean-clad legs up to her face, where he lingered. "No," he noted. "I don't imagine you do."
Silence settled around them, and she almost began speaking, twice, but really didn't know what else to say. Wasn't she supposed to be asking him something? She felt her face heat. This was getting awkward, per the usual.
"You have a nice-looking boy," Ben said quietly. He meant it. Hector was a bright kid from what he had seen in the brief time he'd been near the boy.
She gave that shy little smile he was starting to like more and more. "Yeah, I'm sure this has all been rough for him. But I'm so glad he's alright." The happiness in her face shone like the sun.
"He can be willful sometimes, but he always was a good kid." She lifted her face to find him watching her intently. Her smile faded a fraction.
"That, is because he has such a good mother," Ben murmured. "Take it from me, that's something very precious." She was blushing again, and he noticed her lips…were so pink and perfect.
He really shouldn't touch her, he thought, shouldn't think the things he's thinking about her. But the constant, persistent, possessive whispers of his wolf compelled him, pulling him to make some kind of tangible contact with her.
He just had to touch her.
He absently lifted his hand and ran the rough tips of his fingers across the soft skin beneath her ear. "He has a very strong, beautiful mother."
He saw the color intensify in her cheeks. He sighed, nearly letting a soft laugh escape him. His eyes shone intensely. "I told you this wasn't wise," his breathy voice uttered just above a whisper.
She dropped the bag.
Michelle was drawn in by his eyes, the tiny flecks of brown she hadn't yet noticed on the cerulean blue background of his irises, his voice, the tone grown husky, accent thicker. Her hand came up to grasp his, still lingering about her neck.
He seemed to be giving her a moment, just a second, to decide to either back off or to move forward. She made her move even before she had fully decided, easing up on her toes to bring her mouth up to his.
She paused just before making contact, and Ben's head bridged the gap automatically, his mouth meeting hers as though starved for her. Her hands wound themselves about his shoulders, her delicate fingers tickling the hair just above his neck.
She sighed into his mouth when his arms wrapped her back, pulling her body into his. His scent encompassed her, and she felt all the more relaxed for it.
The taste of him tingled across her lips. His flavor was unique, light and pleasant, and she wanted more. She angled her head, deepening the kiss, eager to sample more of him.
Ben let Michelle make the first move, hoping to make her more comfortable, to make them both more comfortable. He had been at odds with his wolf about touching her, being with her. After all, he wasn't good at this sort of thing.
But his other self had been adamant, rattling his cage, eager for just the slightest brush against her skin.
She had seemed tense, even though she was all confidence when they had entered her place. Now her body melded against his like it belonged there. Perhaps she did.
She felt like a natural complement to him. He was surprised, and delighted, when he felt her tongue against his lips, begging his response.
As he gave her what she wanted, letting her choose the pace. Somehow they ended up on the couch, Michelle straddling him as the kiss continued.
His tongue was gentle, soft, testing the dips and curves of her mouth. He put her under no pressure, letting her be the aggressor, and she enjoyed herself all the more for it, her thighs squeezing his legs as she adjusted her seat.
Her mind was swimming with sensations, ecstatic, magically blank save for what was happening here and now, with this snarky, sometimes-arrogant wolf she'd come to fancy almost against her will.
She felt his hardness against her, causing her to instinctively grind against him, wringing a groan from him that started in his chest, vibrating up to their joined mouths.
His movements became more forceful, his hands grabbing her hips, pulling her down harder onto his rapidly hardening groin. His tongue delved deeper, and she grasped his head more firmly in response, her fingers digging into his scalp.
One of his hands slowly traveled to the top button of her shirt, pausing a moment, giving her time to object. Michelle pulled her lips from his, her eyes locking with his before traveling to the hand at her shirt, waiting.
His other hand joined the first, and within seconds, her top was open. He watched her chest rise and fall ever faster as he admired her lacy bra. She watched his face, hoping he liked what he saw.
It was obvious it pleased him. He leaned forward to plant a kiss on her lips, moving lower to do the same to her neck, her shoulder, until finally placing one slowly between her breasts.
Her breath hitched when she felt his tongue dance against her skin as his hands made their way up, caressing her skin as he grasped the clasp of the lacy material. He deftly unclipped it, sliding the straps down her trembling arms and discarding the garment without care.
When her breasts were revealed to him, Ben examined them hungrily. The nipples were a rich, chocolaty brown that beckoned his mouth as they hardened in the cooler temperature.
They were neither too big nor too small, perfect in every way. He palmed them, the softness of them snapping him from his examination.
He went back to work with his tongue, sliding it between them before focusing on one at a time. Michelle tipped her head back as he worked, his hot mouth working wonders as they left a tingling path from one breast to the other.
Her hands threaded into his hair, the soft, blonde strands flowing through her fingers. Her breathing was hard and fast, and when he blew softly on a moistened nipple, she gasped.
His lips sucked and nipped, leaving love marks that faded quickly. He found that he quite liked to watch her skin heal, how his teeth marks were there for only a moment before her creamy skin returned to normal.
She was steadily grinding against his straining erection, and Ben was close to his limit. His lips left her breast, and after a moment, she opened her eyes, looking confused.
"What's wrong," she rasped, breathless, her lust-drunk eyes leveled on his face. The man's mouth was amazing. Why had he stopped?
Ben's watched her a moment, his hands heavy on her hips, eager to divest her of the rest of her clothing and lose himself inside her. "Undress me," he finally said, his voice gravelly.
Michelle immediately complied, reaching for the hem of his blue polo shirt, pulling it up and over his head as he lifted his arms to accommodate her.
His breath whispered against her face when the shirt was gone, and Michelle took a moment to look at him. His chest was leanly muscled with light blonde hair here and there, dark pink, flattened nipples culminating in darker hairs leading beneath the waistband of his pants.
She experimentally leaned down to run her tongue lightly over his nipple, and he jerked slightly, a shiver running along his skin, making his abdominal muscles contract. She went to do so again when his fingers bit again into her hips.
"Please," Ben murmured, his thick accent caressing her ears. "Just unzip me."
A playful smirk lit Michelle's lips at the near desperation in his tone. "Eager are we?" she asked with a smile, her hand reaching down boldly to stroke the hardness between her legs.
Ben's eyes rolled closed, and he reached to still her hand. "Woman, don't toy with me. If I don't have you right now," he groaned. "I may bloody well explode."
She giggled and decided against torturing him any longer. They both needed this. Between the stress of her forced induction into the pack and all the negative feelings that had come from that, the circles she and Ben had danced around each other, and now her son, some pleasure was a welcome change.
What could it hurt? They were both consenting adults.
As Michelle reached to the button of Ben's slacks, the air was suddenly rent by loud music, accompanied by a vibration coming from underneath them. It was her phone's ringtone. The haze of their activities started to fade as the real world intruded.
"Ignore it," Ben grunted, hoping to keep her undivided attention. She seemed to agree with him at first, but decided to reach for the phone, just in case. It must have fallen from the pocket of her jeans into the couch cushions.
At Ben's exasperated look, Michelle explained. "It could be Hector." She fumbled for the still ringing device, finally pulling it from the cushions. It was Adam's number. She accepted the call.
"Hello?" she answered uncertainly, trying to stabilize her breathing. Ben watched her face.
"Mom?" Hector asked. "I wanted to ask you to grab a couple other things for me, if that's alright." Michelle sighed in relief. She thought it had been something serious. "Of course I can, Hector," she said as Ben bent his head back to her breast.
She gave him a censoring look as he smirked at her, giving her breast a kiss before fitting his face against her neck and kissing her…with both lips and tongue.
She shivered, and she had to restrain herself from moaning into the phone and making both herself and her child very, very uncomfortable.
Hector was explaining what he needed, and Michelle tried hard to listen, responding appropriately. She got that he wanted her to hurry home, but that was all her brain could decipher.
Really, she had understood next to nothing, and she was pretty sure that was exactly as Ben had intended. When he grazed his teeth against a nipple, it was all she could take.
"Ah! Okay, Mijo. I'll get it for you!" she said with a little more force than she had intended. She heard the concern in her son's tone. "¿Que paso?"
She had no idea what to say, so she opted for a quick getaway. "Uh, I'll see you soon." She hung up, not wanting to give herself away any worse.
Ben still had a nipple engulfed in his mouth when she cuffed him on top of the head. He let her go with an intentionally loud pop that turned her face red. "What?" he asked with faux innocence. "Something wrong?"
Michelle smiled in spite of herself. "You are definitely trouble," she said. "But I think I knew that already."
Ben smiled, and would have joked back if he hadn't noticed she was grabbing for her bra. "Exactly what are you doing?" he asked, incredulous. "Why are you getting dressed?"
Michelle sighed. "I need to get back to Hector. He asked me to pick some things up, but of course I can't remember what he said. I'll have to call him back." She gave an awkward smile when she saw Ben's crestfallen face. "Rain check?"
She got up as Ben snatched his shirt up, pulling it back over his head. "That's rich," he said indignantly. "You get to go have family time. All I have to look forward to is a night with my stones in a nice, healthy shade of blue. And you call me trouble."
Joking aside, he walked to her, tipping her chin for a quick kiss. "Do what you have to do. Help your son fit in with the pack. I know we both have our responsibilities." He kissed her again, lingering a little this time. "But I've had too much a taste of you. We need to finish this, and soon."
He released her, running an exasperated hand through his hair as he walked to the door. "Shall we go?"
Michelle had been staring at him owlishly, but finally snapped out of it to pull on her bra and button her shirt. Picking up her overnight bag, she followed Ben out to the car. The drive back was quiet at first, before she remembered.
"About that favor I wanted to ask you…" She started as she pulled onto the interstate. "I'll have to go and retrieve the car my son drove into Yakima. Hector can't leave Adam's place, but he told me the motel name. I need to go get the car before it gets towed. Would you drive me there?"
To her surprise, Ben nodded. "I could do that," he said with a straight face. She smiled at him. Another memory was jogged; the one about forgetting what her son had told her, and she dialed the number Hector had called her from.
Ben reached over and placed a hand on her thigh as she asked to speak with her son through her Bluetooth. She had tensed for a moment, but relaxed after, finding she actually liked the possessive gesture.
The two were able to stop at a small supermarket to get the things Hector had repeated to Michelle before making it back to Adam's house.
Ben walked her to the door but didn't go in.
"I think it's time I went home," he said. He suddenly looked very tired. Michelle nodded, unsure what to say. "Thank you for coming with me, and for agreeing to help me with my other car. I'll be in touch with you about a time."
Ben nodded, turning to walk to his truck. "I'll talk to you then." Michelle watched from the porch. He reached his truck, got in, and drove off without so much as looking back at her once.
She shook her head. He's so odd, she thought. Why do I like him again? Then she remembered his lips on hers, his hands and mouth and his lovely voice in her ears.
Smiling shyly to herself, she went inside to be with her son.
She already knew it was inevitable. Sooner or later, she was going to get involved with the most unlikely creature in the form of Ben Shaw. And she found that she no longer cared.