Shiver, page 19part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
Sam groaned softly. His palms brushed the bare skin at the bottom edge of my T-shirt, his thumbs tracing desire on my sides. “Don’t tempt me. ”
I didn’t say anything; just stood in his arms looking up at him.
He pushed his face against my shoulder and groaned again. “It’s so hard to behave myself around you. ” He pushed away from me. “I don’t know if I should keep staying with you. God, you’re only, what—you’re only seventeen. ”
“And you’re so old, right?” I said, suddenly defensive.
“Eighteen,” he said, as if it were something to be sad about. “At least I’m legal. ”
I actually laughed, though nothing was funny. My cheeks felt hot and my heart pounded in my chest. “Are you kidding me?”
“Grace,” he said, and the sound of my name slowed my heart immediately. He took my arm. “I just want to do things right, okay? I only get this one chance to do things right with you. ”
I looked at him. The room was silent except for the rattle of leaves blowing up against the windows. I wondered what my face looked like just then, turned up at Sam. Was it the same intense gaze that Shelby wore in the photograph? Obsession?
The frigid night pressed up against the window beside us, a threat that had become abruptly real tonight. This wasn’t about lust. It was about fear.
“Please come back with me,” I said. I didn’t know what I’d do if he said no. I couldn’t stand to return here tomorrow and find him a wolf.
Sam must have seen it in my eyes, because he just nodded and picked up the slim-jim.
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN • SAM
Grace’s parents were home.
“They’re never home,” Grace said, her voice clearly spelling out her annoyance. But there they were, or at least their cars: her father’s Taurus, looking either silver or blue in the moonlight, and her mother’s little VW Rabbit tucked in front of it.
“Don’t even think of saying ‘I told you so,’” Grace said. “I’m going to go inside and see where they are, and then I’ll come back out to debrief. ”
“You mean, for me to debrief you,” I corrected, tensing my muscles to keep from shivering. Whether from nerves or the memory of cold, I didn’t know.
“Yes,” Grace replied, turning off the headlights. “That. Right back. ”
I watched her run in the house and slunk down into my seat. I couldn’t quite believe that I was hiding in a car in the middle of a freezing cold night, waiting for a girl to come running back out and tell me the coast was clear to come sleep in her room. Not just any girl. The girl. Grace.
She appeared at the front door and made an elaborate gesture. It took me a moment to realize she meant for me to turn off the Bronco and come in. I did so, sliding out of the car as quickly as possible and hurrying quietly up into the front hallway; cold tugged and bit at my exposed skin. Without even letting me pause, Grace gave me a shove, launching me down the hall while she shut the front door and headed in toward the kitchen.
“I forgot my backpack,” she announced loudly in the other room.
I used the cover of their conversation to creep into Grace’s bedroom and softly shut the door. Inside the house, it was easily thirty degrees warmer, a fact for which I was very grateful. I could still feel the trembling in my muscles from being outside; the sensation of in between that I hated.
The cold exhausted me and I didn’t know how long Grace would be up with her parents, so I climbed into bed without turning on the light. Sitting there in the dim moonlight, leaning against the pillows, I rubbed life back into my frozen toes and listened to Grace’s distant voice down the hall. She and her mother were having some amiable conversation about the romantic comedy that had just been on TV. I’d already noticed that Grace and her parents had no problem talking about unimportant things. They seemed to have an endless capacity for laughing pleasantly together about inane topics, but I’d never once heard them talk about anything meaningful.
It was so strange to me, coming from the environment of the pack. Ever since Beck had taken me under his wing, I’d been surrounded by family, sometimes suffocatingly so, and Beck had never failed to give me his undivided attention when I wanted it. I’d taken it for granted, but now I felt spoiled.
I was still sitting up in bed when the doorknob turned quietly. I froze, absolutely still, and then exhaled when I recognized the sound of Grace’s breathing. She shut the door behind her and turned toward the window.
I saw her teeth in the low light. “You in here?” she whispered.
“Where are your parents? Are they going to come in here and shoot me?”
Grace went silent. In the shadows, without her voice, she was invisible to me.
I was about to say something to dispel the strangely awkward moment when she said, “No, they’re upstairs. Mom’s making Dad sit for her to paint him. So you’re clear to go brush your teeth and stuff. If you do it fast. Just sing in a high-pitched voice, so they think it’s me. ” Her voice hardened when she said Dad, though I couldn’t imagine why.
“A tone-deaf voice,” I corrected.
Grace passed by me on the way to the dresser, swatting at my butt. “Just go. ”
Leaving my shoes in her room, I padded quietly down the hall to the downstairs bathroom. It only had a stand-up shower, for which I was intensely grateful, and Grace had made sure to pull the curtain shut so that I wouldn’t have to look into it, anyway.
I brushed my teeth with her toothbrush. Then I stood there, a lanky teenager in a big green T-shirt she had borrowed from her father, looking at my floppy hair and yellow eyes in the mirror. What are you doing, Sam?
I closed my eyes as if hiding my pupils, so wolflike even when I was a human, would change what I was. The fan for the central heating hummed, sending subtle vibrations through my bare feet, reminding me that it was the only thing keeping me in this human form. The new October nights were already cold enough to rip my skin from me, and by next month, the days would be, too. What was I going to do, hide in Grace’s house all winter, fearing every creeping draft?
I opened my eyes again, staring at them in the mirror until their shape and color didn’t mean anything. I wondered what Grace saw in me, why I fascinated her. What was I without my wolf skin? A boy stuffed so full of words that they spilled out of me.
Right now, every phrase, every lyric, that I had in my head ended with the same word: love.
I had to tell Grace that this was my last year.
I peered into the hallway for signs of her parents and crept back into the bedroom, where Grace was already in bed, a long, soft lump under the covers. For a moment, I let my imagination run wild as to what she was wearing. I had a dim wolf memory of her climbing out of bed one spring morning, wearing just an oversized T-shirt, her long legs exposed as she slid them out from under the covers. So sexy it hurt.
Immediately, I felt embarrassed for fantasizing. I sort of paced around at the end of the bed for a few minutes, thinking about cold showers and barre chords and other things that weren’t Grace.
“Hey,” she whispered, voice muzzy as if she had been asleep already. “What’re you doing?”
“Shhh,” I said, my cheeks flushing. “Sorry I woke you up. I was just thinking. ”
Her reply was broken by a yawn. “Stop thinking then. ”
I climbed into bed, keeping to the edge of the mattress. Something about this evening had changed me—something about Grace seeing me at my worst, immobile in the bathtub, ready to give up. Tonight, the bed seemed too small to escape her scent, the sleepy sound of her voice, the warmth of her body. I discreetly stuffed a bunch of blankets between us and rested my head on the pillow, willing my doubts to fly away and let me sleep.
Grace reached over and began stroking her fingers through my hair. I closed my eyes and let her drive me crazy. She draws patterns on my face / These lines make shapes that can’t replace / the version of me that
I didn’t say anything. I was thinking about a melody to go with the lyrics in my head.
“Sorry about tonight,” she whispered. “I don’t mean to push your boundaries. ”
I sighed as her fingers curled around my ears and neck. “It’s just so fast. I want you to”—I stopped short of saying love me, because it seemed presumptive—“want to be with me. I’ve wanted it forever. I just never thought it would actually happen. ” It felt too serious, so I added, “I am just a mythological creature, after all. I technically shouldn’t exist. ”
Grace laughed, low, just for me. “Silly boy. You feel very real to me. ”
“You do, too,” I whispered.
There was a long pause in the darkness.
“I wish I changed,” she said finally, barely audible. I opened my eyes, needing to see the way her face looked when she said that. It was more descriptive than any expression I’d ever seen her wear: immeasurably sad, lips set crookedly with longing.
I reached out for her, cupped the side of her face with my hand. “Oh, no, you don’t, Grace. No, you don’t. ”
She shook her head against the pillow. “I feel so miserable when I hear the howling. I felt so awful when you disappeared for the summer. ”
“Oh, angel, I would take you with me if I could,” I said, and I was simultaneously surprised that the word angel came out of my mouth and that it felt right to call her that. I ran a hand over her hair, fingers catching in the strands. “But you don’t want this. I lose more of myself every year. ”
Grace’s voice was strange. “Tell me what happens, at the end. ”
It took me a moment to figure out what she meant. “Oh, the end. ” There were one thousand ways to tell her, a thousand ways to color it. Grace wouldn’t fall for the rose-colored version that Beck had told me at first, so I just told it straight. “I become me—become human—later in the spring every year. And one year—I guess I just won’t change. I’ve seen it happen to the older wolves. One year, they don’t become human again, and they’re just…a wolf. And they live a little longer than natural wolves. But still—fifteen years, maybe. ”
“How can you talk about your own death like that?”
I looked at her, eyes glistening in the dim light. “How else could I talk about it?”
“Like you regret it. ”
“I regret it every day. ”
Grace was silent, but I felt her processing what I’d said, pragmatically putting everything into its proper place in her head. “You were a wolf when you got shot. ”
I wanted to press my fingers to her lips, push the words she was forming back into her mouth. It was too soon. I didn’t want her to say it yet.
But Grace went on, her voice low. “You missed the hottest months this year. It wasn’t that cold when you got shot. It was cold, but not winter cold. But you were a wolf. When were you a human this year?”
I whispered, “I don’t remember. ”