Shiver, page 18part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
In the next room, Sam sat on the couch under a blanket, his clothing running through the wash. My jeans were still soaking, but they’d have to wait. Turning on a burner for the soup, I tried to focus on the slick black controls, the shiny aluminum surface.
But instead I remembered Sam convulsing on the floor, eyes vacant, and the animal whimper he made as he realized that he was losing himself.
My hands shook as I tipped the soup from the can to the saucepan.
I couldn’t keep it together.
I would keep it together.
I saw the look on his face as I shoved him into the bathtub, just like his parents must have—
God, I couldn’t think about that. Opening the fridge, I was surprised to see a gallon of milk, the first perishable food I’d found in the house. It looked so out of place that I felt my thoughts sharpen. Checking the expiration date—only three weeks ago—I poured the odiferous milk down the drain and frowned into the fridge for other signs of recent life.
Sam was still curled on the couch when I emerged from the kitchen to hand him a bowl of soup and some toast. He accepted it with a more mournful look than usual. “You must think I’m a total freak. ”
I sat on a plaid chair across from him, tucking my legs beneath me, and held my bowl of soup against my chest for warmth. The living room ceiling went all the way up to the roof and the room was still drafty. “I am so sorry. ”
Sam shook his head. “It was the only thing you could do. I just—I shouldn’t have lost it that way. ”
I winced, remembering the crack of his head hitting the wall and his splayed fingers, reaching through the air as he careened into the tub.
“You did really well,” Sam said, glancing at me as he picked at the toast. He seemed to consider his words, and then just repeated, “You did really well. Are you—” He hesitated and then looked to where I sat, several feet away from him. Something in his glance made the empty stretch of couch next to him painfully obvious.
“I’m not afraid of you!” I said. “Is that what you think? I just thought you’d like some elbow room while you ate. ”
Actually, any other time I’d have happily crawled under the blanket with him—especially with him looking warm and sexy in a set of old sweats he’d gotten from his room. But I just wanted—I just needed to put my thoughts in order, and didn’t think I could do that while sitting next to him just yet.
Sam smiled, relief all over his face. “The soup’s good. ”
“Thanks. ” It wasn’t actually that good—in fact, it tasted completely canned and bland, but I was hungry enough that I didn’t care. And the mechanical action of eating helped dull the images of Sam in the bathtub.
“Tell me more about the mind-meld thing,” I said, wanting to keep him talking, to hear his human voice.
Sam swallowed. “The what?”
“You said you showed me the woods, when you were a wolf. And that the wolves talked to each other that way. Tell me more about it. I want to know how it works. ”
Sam leaned forward to set his bowl on the floor, and when he sat back and looked at me, his face looked tired. “It’s not like that. ”
“I didn’t say it was like anything!” I said. “Not like what?”
“It’s not a superpower,” he replied. “It’s a consolation prize. ” When I just looked at him, he added, “It’s the only way we get to communicate. We can’t remember words. We couldn’t say them even if we could wrap our wolf brains around them. So all we get are little images that we can send to each other. Simple images. Postcards from the other side. ”
“Can you send me one now?”
Sam slouched down on the couch, tightening the blanket around himself. “I can’t even remember how to do it now. While I’m me. I only do it when I’m a wolf. Why would I need it now? I have words. I can say anything I want to you. ”
I thought about saying But words aren’t enough, but just thinking it made me ache in an unfamiliar way. So instead I said, “But I wasn’t a wolf when you showed me the woods. So can the wolves talk to other pack members when those members are human?”
Sam’s heavy-lidded eyes flicked over my face. “I don’t know. I don’t think I ever tried with anyone else. Just wolves. ” He said, again, “Why would I need to?”
There was something bitter and tired in his voice. I set my bowl down on the end table and joined him on the couch. He lifted the blanket so that I could press myself against his side, and then he leaned his forehead against mine, closing his eyes. For a long moment, he just rested there, and then he opened his eyes again.
“All I cared about was showing you how to get home,” he said, voice low. His breath warmed my lips. “When you changed, I wanted to make sure you knew how to find me. ”
I ran my fingers across the triangle of bare chest that was visible above the loose collar of his sweatshirt. My voice came out a little uneven. “Well, I found you. ”
The dryer buzzed from down the hall, a strange sound of occupation in this empty house. Sam blinked and leaned back. “I should get my clothing. ” He opened his mouth as if he was going to say something else and blushed instead.
“The clothing’s not going anywhere,” I said.
“Neither are we, if we don’t break into the Bronco to get the keys,” Sam pointed out. “I’m thinking sooner rather than later for that. Especially since it’s going to have to be you doing it. I can’t stand out there that long. ”
I reluctantly moved back so that he could stand, holding the blanket around him like some sort of primitive chieftain. I could see the outline of his square shoulders underneath it and thought about the feel of his skin underneath my fingers. He saw me looking and held my gaze for half a second before vanishing into the dark hallway.
Something gnawed inside me, hungry and wanting.
I sat on the couch after he left, debating whether or not to follow him to the laundry room, until reason won over. I took the plates to the kitchen, then returned to the living room to poke around the bits and pieces on the mantel. I wanted to get a handle on the werewolf he called Beck, the one who owned the house. The one who had raised Sam.
The living room, like the exterior of the house, looked comfortable and lived in. It was all tartans and rich reds and dark wood accents. One wall of the living room was almost entirely made up of tall windows, and the now-dark winter night seemed to enter the room without permission. I turned my back on the windows and looked at a photo on the mantel: a loosely posed group of faces smiling at the camera. It made me think of the picture of Rachel, Olivia, and me, and I felt a twinge of loss before focusing on the people in this photo. Out of the six figures in the photo, my eyes immediately found Sam. This was a slightly younger version of him, with summer-tanned skin. The one girl in the photograph stood next to him, about his age, her white-blonde hair reaching beyond her shoulders. She was the only one not smiling at the camera. Instead, she was looking at Sam in an intense way that made my stomach churn.
A soft touch on my neck made me whirl around, defensive, and Sam jumped back, laughing, hands up in the air. “Easy!”
I swallowed the growl in my throat, feeling stupid, and rubbed the still-tingling skin on my neck where he’d kissed it. “You should make some noise. ” I gestured to the photo, still feeling uncharitable toward the unnamed girl beside him. “Who’s that?”
Sam lowered his hands and stood behind me, wrapping his arms around my stomach. His clothing smelled clean and soapy; his skin gave off hints of wolf from his near-transformation earlier. “Shelby. ” He leaned his head on my shoulder, his cheek against mine.
I kept my voice light. “She’s pretty. ”
Sam growled in a soft, wild way that made my gut tense with longing. He pressed his lips against my neck, not quite a kiss. “You’ve met her, you know. ”
It didn’t take rocket science to figure it out. “The white she- wolf. ” And then I just asked it, because I wanted t
“Oh, Grace,” he said, taking his lips from my neck. “I don’t know. She’s—I don’t know. She thinks she’s in love with me. She wants to be in love with me. ”
“Why?” I asked.
He gave a little laugh, not at all amused. “Why do you ask such hard questions? I don’t know. She had a bad life, I think, before she came to the pack. She likes being a wolf. She likes belonging. I guess maybe she sees how Beck and I are around each other and thinks that being with me would make her belong even more. ”
“It is possible to be in love with you just because of who you are,” I pointed out.
Sam’s body tensed behind me. “But it’s not because of who I am. It’s…obsession. ”
“I’m obsessed,” I said.
Sam let out a long breath and pulled away from me.
I sighed. “Shhhhh. You didn’t have to move. ”
“I’m trying to be a gentleman. ”
I leaned back against him, smiling at his worried eyes. “You don’t have to try so hard. ”
He sucked in his breath, waited a long moment, and then carefully kissed my neck, just underneath my jawbone. I turned around in his arms so I could kiss his lips, still charmingly hesitant.
“I was thinking about the refrigerator,” I whispered.
Sam pulled back, ever so slightly, without removing himself from my arms. “You were thinking about the refrigerator?”
“Yes. I was thinking about how you didn’t know if the power would be turned on here for the winter. But it is. ”
He frowned at me, and I rubbed the crease between his eyebrows.
“So who pays the power bill? Beck?” When he nodded, I went on, “There was milk in the fridge, Sam. It was only a few weeks old. Someone has been in here. Recently. ”
Sam’s arms around me had loosened and his sad eyes had gone even sadder. His entire expression was complicated, his face a book in a language I didn’t understand.
“Sam,” I said, wanting to bring him back to me.
But his body had gone stiff. “I should get you home. Your parents will be worried. ”
I laughed, short and humorless. “Yeah. I’m sure. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. ” Sam shook his head, but he was clearly distracted. “I mean, not nothing. It’s been a hell of a day, that’s all. I’m just—I’m just tired, I guess. ”
He did look tired, something dark and somber in his expression. I wondered if almost changing had affected him, or if I should’ve just stayed quiet about Shelby and Beck. “You’re coming home with me, then. ”
He jerked his chin toward the house around him.
“C’mon,” I said. “I’m still worried that you’ll disappear. ”
“I won’t disappear. ”
Inadvertently, I thought of him on the floor in the hallway, curled up, making a soft noise as he struggled to stay human. I immediately wished I hadn’t. “You can’t promise that. I don’t want to go home. Not unless you’re coming with me. ”