Shiver, page 35part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
“Not me,” he said.
“It’s all I smell,” I murmured, opening my eyes to look up at him.
“Don’t be stubborn. ” Sam turned me slightly, so that I was facing the center of the shop; I saw shelves of tinned cookies and candies and the glint of a glass candy counter beyond them. “Give in for once. It’s worth it. ”
His sad eyes implored me to explore something I’d left untouched for years. Something more than untouched—something I’d buried alive. Buried when I had thought I was alone. Now I had Sam behind me, holding me tightly to his chest as if he held me upright, his breath blowing warm over my ear.
I closed my eyes, flared my nostrils, and let the scents flood in. The strongest of them, caramel and brown sugar, smell as yellow-orange as the sun, came first. That one was easy. The one that anyone would notice coming into the shop. And then chocolate, of course, the bitter dark and the sugary milk chocolate. I don’t think a normal girl would’ve smelled anything else, and part of me wanted to stop there. But I could feel Sam’s heart pounding behind me, and for once, I gave in.
Peppermint swirled into my nostrils, sharp as glass, then raspberry, almost too sweet, like too-ripe fruit. Apple, crisp and pure. Nuts, buttery, warm, earthy, like Sam. The subtle, mild scent of white chocolate. Oh, God, some sort of mocha, rich and dark and sinful. I sighed with pleasure, but there was more. The butter cookies on the shelves added a floury, comforting scent, and the lollipops, a riot of fruit scents too concentrated to be real. The salty bite of pretzels, the bright smell of lemon, the brittle edge of anise. Smells I didn’t even know names for. I groaned.
Sam rewarded me with the lightest of kisses on my ear before he spoke into it. “Isn’t it amazing?”
I opened my eyes; colors seemed dull in comparison with what I had just experienced. I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound trivial, so I just nodded. He kissed me again, on my cheek, and gazed at my face, his expression bright and delighted with whatever he saw in mine. It occurred to me that he hadn’t shared this place, this experience, with anyone else. Just me.
“I love it,” I said finally, in a voice so low I’m not even sure he could hear it. But of course he could. He could hear everything I could.
I wasn’t sure if I was ready to admit how not normal I was.
Sam released all of me but my hand, and tugged me deeper into the shop. “Come on. Now the hard part. Pick something. What do you want? Pick something. Anything. I’ll get it for you. ”
I want you. Feeling the grip of his hand in mine, the brush of his skin on mine, seeing the way he moved in front of me, equal parts human and wolf, and remembering his smell—I ached with wanting to kiss him.
Sam’s hand squeezed on mine as if he was reading my thoughts, and he led me to the candy counter. I stared at the rows of perfect chocolates, petit fours, coated pretzels, and truffles.
“Cold out tonight, isn’t it?” the girl behind the counter asked. “It’s supposed to snow. I can’t wait. ” She looked up at us and gave us a silly, indulgent smile, and I wondered just how stupidly happy we looked, holding hands and drooling over chocolates.
“What’s the best?” I asked.
The girl immediately pointed out a few racks of chocolates. Sam shook his head. “Could we get two hot chocolates?”
“Do you have to ask?”
She grinned at us and turned around to prepare it. A whuff of rich chocolate gusted over the counter when she opened the tin of cocoa. While she dribbled peppermint extract into the bottom of paper cups, I turned to Sam and took his other hand. I stood on my toes and stole a soft kiss from his lips. “Surprise attack,” I said.
Sam leaned down and kissed me back, his mouth lingering on mine, teeth grazing my lower lip, making me shiver. “Surprise attack back. ”
“Sneaky,” I said, my voice breathier than I intended.
“You two are too cute,” the counter girl said, setting two cups piled with whipped cream on the counter. She had a sort of lopsided, open smile that made me think she laughed a lot. “Seriously. How long have you been going out?”
Sam let go of my hands to get his wallet and took out some bills. “Six years. ”
I wrinkled my nose to cover a laugh. Of course he would count the time that we’d been two entirely different species.
“Whoa. ” Counter girl nodded appreciatively. “That’s pretty amazing for a couple your age. ”
Sam handed me my hot chocolate and didn’t answer. But his yellow eyes gazed at me possessively—I wondered if he realized that the way he looked at me was far more intimate than copping a feel could ever be.
I crouched to look at the almond bark on the bottom shelf in the counter. I wasn’t quite bold enough to look at either of them when I admitted, “Well, it was love at first sight. ”
The girl sighed. “That is just so romantic. Do me a favor, and don’t you two ever change. The world needs more love at first sight. ”
Sam’s voice was husky. “Do you want some of those, Grace?”
Something in his voice, a catch, made me realize that my words had more of an effect than I’d intended. I wondered when the last time someone had told him they loved him was.
That was a really sad thing to think about.
I stood up and took Sam’s hand again; his fingers gripped mine so hard it almost hurt. I said, “Those buttercreams look fantastic, actually. Can we get some of those?”
Sam nodded at the girl behind the counter. A few minutes later, I was clutching a small paper bag of sweets and Sam had whipped cream on the end of his nose. I pointed it out and he grimaced, embarrassed, wiping it off with his sleeve.
“I’m going to go start the car,” I said, handing him the bag. He looked at me without saying anything, so I added, “To warm it up. ”
“Oh. Right. Good thinking. ”
I think he’d forgotten how cold it was outside. I hadn’t, though, and I had a horrible picture in my head of him spasming in the car while I tried to get the heat higher. I left him in the store and headed out into the dark winter night.
It was weird how as soon as the door closed behind me, I felt utterly alone, suddenly assaulted with the vastness of the night, lost without Sam’s touch and scent to anchor me. Nothing here was familiar to me. If Sam became a wolf right now, I didn’t know how long it would take me to find my way home or what I’d do with him—I wouldn’t be able to just leave him here, miles of interstate away from his woods. I’d lose him in both his forms. The street was already dusted with white, and more snowflakes drifted down around me, delicate and ominous. As I unlocked the car door, my breath made ghostly shapes in front of me.
This increasing unease was unusual for me. I shivered and waited in the Bronco until it was warmed up, sipping my hot chocolate. Sam was right—the hot chocolate was amazing, and immediately I felt better. The little bit of mint shot my mouth through with cold at the same time that the chocolate filled it with warmth. It was soothing, too, and by the time the car was warm, I felt silly for imagining anything would go wrong tonight.
I jumped out of the Bronco and stuck my head in the candy shop, finding Sam where he lingered by the door. “It’s ready. ”
Sam shuddered visibly when he felt the blast of cold air come in the door, and without a word, he bolted for the Bronco. I called a thanks to the counter girl before following Sam, but on the way to the car, I saw something on the sidewalk that made me pause. Beneath the scuffed footsteps Sam had made were another, older set that I hadn’t noticed before, pacing back and forth through the new snow in front of the candy shop.
My eyes followed their path as they crossed back and forth by the shop, steps long and light, and then I let my gaze follow them down the sidewalk. There was a dark pile about fifteen feet away, out of the bright circle of light of the streetlamp. I hesitated, thinking, Just get in the Bronco, but then instinct pricked me, and I went to it.
CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR • SAM
It sounds stupid, but one of the things that I loved about Grace was how she didn’t have to talk. Sometimes, I just wanted my silences to stay silent, full of thoughts, empty of words. Where another girl might have tried to lure me into conversation, Grace just reached for my hand, resting our knotted hands on my leg, and leaned her head against my shoulder until we were well out of Duluth. She didn’t ask how I knew my way around the city, or why my eyes lingered on the road that my parents used to turn down to get to our neighborhood, or how it was that a kid from Duluth ended up living in a wolf pack near the Canadian border.
And when she did finally speak, taking her hand off mine to retrieve a buttercream from the candy shop bag, she told me about how, as a kid, she’d once made cookies with leftover boiled Easter eggs instead of raw ones. It was exactly what I wanted—beautiful distraction.
Until I heard the musical tone of a cell phone, a descending collection of digital notes, coming from my pocket. For a second I couldn’t think why a phone would be in my coat, and then I remembered Beck stuffing it into my hand while I stared past him. Call me when you need me was what he had said.
Funny how he had said when, not if.
“Is that a phone?” Grace’s eyebrows drew down over her eyes. “You have a phone?”
Beautiful distraction crashed around me as I dug it out of my pocket. “I didn’t,” I said weakly. She kept looking at me, and the little bit of hurt in her eyes killed me. Shame colored my cheeks. “I just got one,” I said. The phone rang again, and I hit the ANSWER button. I didn’t have to look at the screen to know who was calling.
“Where are you, Sam? It’s cold. ” Beck’s voice was full of the genuine concern that I’d always appreciated.
I was aware of Grace’s eyes on me.
I didn’t want his concern. “I’m fine. ”
Beck paused, and I imagined him dissecting the tone of my voice. “Sam, it’s not so black-and-white. Try to understand. You won’t even give me a chance to talk to you. When have I ever been wrong?”
“Now,” I said, and hung up. I shoved the phone back in my pocket, half expecting it to ring again. I sort of hoped it would so that I could not answer.
Grace didn’t ask me who it was. She didn’t ask me to tell her what was said. I knew she was waiting for me to volunteer the information, and I knew I should, but I didn’t want to. I just—I just couldn’t bear the idea of her seeing Beck in that light. Or maybe I just couldn’t bear the idea of me seeing him in that light.
I didn’t say anything.
Grace swallowed before pulling out her own phone. “That reminds me, I should check for messages. Ha. As if my family would call. ”
She studied her cell phone; its blue screen lit up the palm of her hand and cast a ghostly light on her chin.
“Did they?” I asked.
“Of course not. They’re rubbing elbows with old friends. ” She punched in their number and waited. I heard a murmur on the other end of the phone, too quiet for me to make out. “Hi, it’s me. Yeah. I’m fine. Oh. Okay. I won’t wait up then. Have fun. Bye. ” She slapped the phone shut, rolled her brown eyes toward me, and smiled wanly. “Let’s elope. ”